Blues Bytes


January 2021

B.B. King
Blues Is King


BB King

For many years, I thought that I had enough live recordings from B.B. King. I had owned Live At Cook County Jail back in the cassette tape days, and one of my first purchases upon converting to CDs was Live At The Regal.

However, several years ago, I was talking to another B.B. King fan, and he recommended that I check out Blues Is King and I would then have THE live B.B. King recording. I was taken aback a bit because, at the time, I didn’t even know that Blues Is King was a live album. I rarely saw it in the record stores after I started listening to the blues.

About eight months ago, I found a copy at a used record store, and was amazed at my good fortune. I’d only recently seen it in the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, where it was priced at nearly $30, or on various online stores where it was about the same price or more. I paid $5 at the record store for a practically new copy, and it could possibly be the best five dollars I’ve ever spent.

Blues Is King was recorded a couple of years after Live At The Regal. Both were recorded in Chicago, but Blues Is King was recorded in a smaller, more intimate locale, The Club, which was managed by DJs Pervis Spann and E. Rodney Jones. Also, on the Regal set, King had been backed by his big ensemble, but on Blues Is King, he’s backed by a five-piece band (Duke Jethro – organ, Louis Satterfield – bass, Sonny Freeman – drums, Kenneth Sands – trumpet, and Bobby Forte – tenor sax) and they do a masterful job supporting the King of The Blues on these ten songs.

King sounds magnificent on guitar. I think maybe the smaller band benefits him because sometimes his guitar and his voice would be overwhelmed by the horns in his ban. Ever watch him on TV when he would appear on the Tonight Show and the blaring horns would drown him out, which was no mean feat given the sound of his booming vocal and his stinging fretwork. One of the things my friend pointed out about Blues Is King is how well it captures King’s personality and charm, as well as his rapport with the audience. In a sense, the REAL B.B. King is on display on this set.

The song selection is first-rate as well. Several songs would have been familiar to most fans (then and now), such as “Gamblers’ Blues” (this was the last time he ever recorded it), “Tired of Your Jive,” “Don’t Answer The Door,” and “Night Life” (written by Willie Nelson, but King pretty much owned this one after he started covering it). There are several other songs that he performed less frequently, at least as time marched on, such as “Waitin’ On You,” “Blind Love,” “I Know What You’re Puttin’ Down” (some wonderful guitar work on this track), and “Baby Get Lost.” You may not have ever heard these songs and you’ll probably wonder why after you hear them rendered on Blues Is King.

I’m not sure whether I agree that Blues Is King is the definitive live B.B. King recording. The song selection is more familiar on the previously mentioned live sets, but I think his performance is better on this set, certainly as inspired and energetic and maybe more so. Apparently, many blues fans agree because the album was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2018, actually the third live King album to earn the honor (can you guess the other two?). If you haven’t heard Blues Is King, I encourage you to check it out and see what you think.

--- Graham Clarke



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